Material recovery from end-of-life PV panels could yield USD 15bn by 2050
The value of raw materials recovered from photovoltaic (PV) panels at the end of their lifetime could exceed USD 15 billion (EUR 13bn) by 2050, according to a report, out today.
This is equivalent to the raw material needed to produce 2 billion new panels, or 630 GW, says the study, prepared by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA-PVPS).
With the continued growth of the global solar market, the volume of decommissioned PV panels will also increase. Global installed PV capacity was 222 GW at the end of 2015 and is expected to reach 4,500 GW by 2050.
The report says that while the growing PV waste presents a new environmental challenge, it also offers a new business opportunity as recycling or repurposing PV panels can unlock a large amount of raw materials and other components.
Given PV panels' average lifetime of 30 years, large amounts of annual PV waste are expected by the early 2030s.
By 2030, the total material value recovered through PV panel treatment and recycling could be up to USD 450 million, according to the analysis. It estimates that by 2050, global PV panel waste, consisting mainly of glass, could total 78 million tonnes.
The report calls for policy action in time to meet the expected surge in panel waste. "Experience with electronic waste tells us that developing technological and regulatory systems for efficient, effective and affordable end-of-life management requires long lead times," said Stefan Nowak, chairman of IEA-PVPS.
Currently, only the EU has adopted PV-specific waste regulations, the report says.